Dear New Loretto Volunteers,
Congratulations! Amidst the stress of application season and what I’m sure for many of you is your last semester of college, you made it to Spring. And you’ve committed yourselves to a year of personal, spiritual, and professional growth through the Loretto Volunteer program. Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, eat a piece of chocolate—you deserve it!
Last month, the 2017-2018 cohort of Loretto Volunteers ventured to the rolling hills of Kentucky for a weekend of relaxation, reflection, and community at the Loretto Motherhouse. It was a much needed respite from the January blues and a time to reconnect with the Loretto Spirit. We ventured in the pouring rain out to the Cedars of Peace Chapel (spend some time here, I promise you won’t regret it), where Mallory handed us each a packet of letters written by members of the Loretto Community. We read to the slow tapping of raindrops against the Chapel windows and I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I’m writing to you now to reflect on this sense of belonging I’ve felt during my two years with Loretto and offer some advice as you begin your time in the program.
First and foremost, you are unique and strong. Never forget that. There are so many different reasons that volunteers come to Loretto. Ask your cohort what inspired them to join the program, learn about one another’s passions, hopes, and dreams and share yours in return. There is no faster way to build community.
You join a long line of other unique and strong individuals. Never forget that either. In her letter, Eileen Harrington, CoL (Co-member of Loretto – don’t worry, you’ll come to understand what I call “nun lingo” in no time!) reminds us of the inspirational lives of so many within the Loretto Community. She writes, “I hope you learn to remember their stories, and most important, remember they were once your age, young Lorettos setting out to work for justice by starting from where they were, seeing what needed to be done, and doing it.” My first time at the Loretto Motherhouse, I felt enveloped by this fiery, compassionate, and justice-minded Loretto Spirit. Take the time to ask Sisters about their work—I hope you will feel instant inspiration after these conversations! Rest assured that you are joining a community of sisters, co-members, former volunteers, and more who admire your courage to embark on a Loretto journey.
Opening retreat will be, I imagine, your first time at the Loretto Motherhouse. Learn not to take the Motherhouse for granted. At my first opening retreat, I soaked in the beauty and deep spirituality of the Motherhouse grounds. I didn’t know at the time how important this space would become for me. Cherish your time here. Go for a morning walk around Mary’s Lake, write in your journal, visit the cemetery, ask Susan and JoAnn to show you around their garden. Connect with your new community members, but also learn the importance of quiet and alone time. Remember your connection to the Motherhouse as you build your lives in DC, St. Louis, and El Paso.
Adjusting to community life and simple living can be hard. It requires patience and creativity. Elaine Prevallet, SL, encourages us to “help each other live deeply, with minds and hearts open, seeking truth, bringing love.” Cathy Mueller, SL, reminds us to “discover joys beyond material things.” This is what community and simplicity are all about. Lean into the times when community is tough—these are the times when you will experience the most growth. When your stipend runs out before the end of the month, recommit the next month to finding different, more mindful ways to consume. There are always adjustments you will have to make, but learn to take joy in these and recognize how they bring you closer to yourself and your community. Remember to “stay in touch with what matters,” writes Elaine Prevallet.
Loretto Volunteers commit to “working for justice and acting for peace.” There are times when your justice work will wear you thin. Tired, frustrated, and hopeless, you might come home after work and wonder why on earth you signed up for this program. In times like these, lean on your community or your support systems outside of Loretto. Reconnect with how you felt at opening retreat. Reconnect with the inspirational stories of sisters you’ve met. Marian McAvoy, SL, finds it “heartening to see young people through the years who really want to do something that helps others.” Remember that you have hundreds of people like Marian behind you. They all know how hard this work can be, and they are in solidarity with you in the struggle for justice.
Lastly, dive into spirituality, whatever that looks like for you. Take the time to reflect, to process, to sustain yourself for your work. Connect with what truly matters to you, what makes you feel at ease and filled with belonging. Develop a curiosity for the unknown. Learn how others in your community express their spirituality and grow from that. Spirituality, writes Cathy Meuller, SL, is “the connection with mystery larger than you, a motivator, consoler, animator, who will walk with you for your whole life.” Sit with these words as you begin your volunteer year and learn to become a part of something larger than yourself.
I wish you all the best of luck on your volunteer journeys. Know that you are all amazing and will grow in many ways throughout your volunteer year! I leave you with one of my favorite poems by my main gal, Mary Oliver.
Let Loretto be Loretto Forever,
by Mary Oliver
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead—
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging--
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted--
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
Hannah Dorfman is from Columbus, OH and graduated in 2015 from Tufts University with a double major in Religious Studies and American Studies. She works as a Staff Associate at the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, MD, an educational and spiritual center for dialogue on faith, feminism, and justice. Hannah is an ultimate frisbee player, long-time cellist, and loves to cook and bake. She is incredibly grateful to be a part of the Loretto Community and to return as a second-year volunteer.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.